The Las Vegas Bowl made another big step Tuesday morning in its decades-long climb up the college football postseason landscape.
After starting as one of the lowest-tier bowls nearly 30 years ago, the annual local game had recently ascended to one that ESPN used to anchor its early postseason coverage. Now it’s getting another prestige boost.
For the first time ever, the Las Vegas Bowl is guaranteed to be a matchup between a pair of Power Five conference teams — with a Pac-12 representative annually taking on a rotation of SEC and Big Ten opponents —scheduled after Christmas starting in 2020.
“This is a game-changer because we are literally changing our game,” said John Saccenti, Las Vegas Bowl Executive Director. “The Las Vegas Bowl will never be the same.”
Saccenti announced the changes in a media conference at Palms’ Apex Social Club alongside Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority CEO Steve Hill, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Big Ten Commissioner Larry Delaney and Raiders President Marc Badain. The sextet posed for photographs on the ledge of the 55th floor venue after a presentation with construction on the game’s future home, the Las Vegas Stadium, taking place in the background.
Badain noted that the Las Vegas Bowl was the first non-Raiders, non-UNLV major event slated for the stadium.
“Approximately three years ago when the vision for this building was laid out, it was really for days like today in mind,” Badain said. “The vision was to build a building that would attract and create new events, enhance and augment existing events and create a new venue so that the biggest events in the world could come to the greatest city in the world for this stage.”
Last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, a 31-20 Fresno State victory over Arizona State, attracted an attendance of 37,146 fans to Sam Boyd Stadium. Hill said the city expected attendance and visitation to nearly double with the new setup, as Las Vegas Stadium will be able to hold up to 72,000 fans.
The Las Vegas Bowl will be strategically placed annually on the best date between Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to Hill, and should bring an economic impact of around $50 million.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this game is going to pop,” Delaney said. “It’s going to pop for TV. It’s going to pop for the fans.”
The three-conference agreement runs for five years or six games. The SEC will send a team in 2020, 2022 and 2024. The Big Ten will be represented in 2021, 2023 and 2025.
The Las Vegas Bowl can expect to land a mid-tier team from those two conferences, as it will get the fourth pick out of the Big Ten and the third-to-eighth out of the SEC. It will annually receive the second Pac-12 selection, excluding the College Football Playoff selection committee-assigned teams, behind the Holiday Bowl.
The new contract ends a 19-year relationship with the Mountain West Conference, though Scott said the Pac-12 had plans to continue its matchup against the league's champion at a to-be-announced location.
Next year will be the first team an SEC team has played locally since the 2000 Las Vegas Bowl, when Arkansas fell 31-14 to UNLV.
“It’s stepping out of our geographic footprint, and if we were going to do that, there was one place for it and it was Las Vegas and an opportunity play the Pac-12 in a new something special,” Sankey said.
And this could be only the beginning for major college football in Las Vegas. Scott mentioned that discussions had taken place for the new stadium to host, “big national games and major early-season non-conference games.”
Las Vegas, therefore, could soon rival established go-to destinations like Atlanta and Arlington, Texas for neutral-site showcases.
“Today is truly an inflection point but I think it’s also the beginning of other great things that are in store for the Raiders and Las Vegas,” Scott said.